Saturday, October 4, 2008

Featured Pipe Smoker: Günter Grass

Günter Wilhelm Grass (b. 1927)

Author, poet, playwright and sculptor Günter Grass, who seems almost never to be photographed without a pipe. Born in Danzig, Germany (now Gdańsk, Poland), and since 1945 has lived in West Germany. His works have a strong leftist leaning, and he is a supporter of the Social Democrat Party of Germany. His most well-known book is The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) from 1959.

During the 1980s, he argued against reunification of East and West Germany, stating that a united Germany would once again assume its old role as a belligerent nation-state. Many of his essays deal with the idea that the people of Germany should still share a collective guilt from the activities of the Nazi regime of the 1930s and '40s.

Conversely, Grass volunteered for U-boat duty in 1942 at the age of 15. He was not accepted, but was conscripted into the Reichsarbeitdienst (Reich Labor Service). Later in 1944, he was called up for service in the Waffen-SS and trained as a tank gunner, serving with the 10th SS Panzer Division. He was wounded in battle in 1945, captured and sent to an American POW camp.

Some have castigated Grass for seeming the hypocrite, others say his latter-day confession of membership is a publicity stunt to sell books. Still others dismiss it as a youthful error. He was a teenage male in World War II Germany--he would have had to serve somewhere, it seems, or face execution.

Günter Grass is another of those rare pipe smokers who is widely reviled by other pipe smokers, not because of his questionable politics, but because of the way he keeps his pipes. Although I personally have no first-hand knowledge of this, it is said that he is one of those who does not clean his pipes, therefore the smell of his pipe is more of a foul stench than a pleasing aroma.

Look closely at the pipe in this photo. You will notice that although the pipe is the typical dark brown of a well-smoked briar, the rim of the bowl is black. You will also notice the discoloration on the bit where his lips clamp around the stem.

The black rim is caused by tar build-up from burning tobacco. This is what happens if you don't wipe clean the rim occasionally. The discoloration on the stem is what happens when saliva gets on vulcanite (rubber) and is exposed to air and sunlight. Both can be prevented by cleaning the pipe every now and then.

I will admit that a couple of my truck pipes look similar to this. However, I also keep pipe cleaners and cleaning fluid in my truck so that I can regularly clean the insides and keep them smelling sweet.

Look at the bit of this pipe. Come on, Günter, clean your pipes!

I am also not a very public figure who is frequently photographed with a pipe. If I were to be photographed with a pipe, you can bet it wouldn't look like this.

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